Posted by: kerryl29 | March 11, 2019

The Grass Is Always Greener (Sometimes, Literally)

I have a friend who has lived almost his entire life in the Phoenix, Arizona area.  For those of you unfamiliar with Phoenix, it’s located in a valley, smack in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.  It’s dry and often very hot in Phoenix, with an unsurprisingly dun-colored landscape.  This, in fact, describes much of the state of Arizona (though not all of it), at least in a technical sense.

Windstone Arch, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

My friend has taken an interest in my photography and has asked me to send him periodic samples of my work.  He has typically shown a particular affinity for my images which contain things like creeks, waterfalls, fields of flowers and trees lush with foliage.  See the pattern here? These are all things that are not in abundance in a desert environment.

Roaring Fork, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee (final version)

A number of years ago, when I told him that I was heading to Arizona for a week or so of photography, he expressed surprise, bordering on outright astonishment.  “Why would you want to come here?” he asked.  “It’s hot and dry.  The most interesting things are rocks and cacti.  I can’t imagine why anyone would want to take the time, and spend the money, to come here for landscape photography.”

Dawn, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim, Arizona

I explained that there was nothing unique about my desire to go to Arizona to photograph; people from all over the world travel to Arizona and the surrounding states of the American Southwest for photography—a concept he simply couldn’t wrap his mind around.  Why would people travel thousands of miles to come to a place that had “nothing”?  Why would I leave all of these inspiring ecosystems that he was seeing in my photos, native to the American Midwest, filled with water and greenery and trees with leaves that change color in the fall to go to such a bleak and barren place?

Oak Tree Splendor, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.  It’s a natural tendency to become habituated, to at least some degree, to that which is common to our own experience, regardless of what that is.  We’re inclined to take the familiar for granted.  Sometimes it requires the perspective of an outsider to reboot our own associations with places and things.  My friend has been in the desert all his life.  Where I see haunting, singular beauty, all he sees is monochromatic monotony.  Similarly, what I often regard as the cluttered, indistinct scenery of the Midwest is like Shangri-La to him.

“The Cavity,” Heart of the Dunes, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

I’ve always said that I spend my time living in a part of the world that is hardly among the planet’s garden spots for the kind of photography I like to engage in (i.e. landscape), and I firmly believe that to be true, but it’s always helpful to receive a reminder that there’s plenty of natural beauty out there, simply waiting for someone with the appropriate mindset to see it for what it is and reveal it.

Coneflower Morning, Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, Illinois

The moral of the story:  don’t settle for regarding the familiar as prosaic; you’ll be missing something grand if you do.


  1. Gorgeous photos & encouraging advice. 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Wow, that is so interesting. I wonder if your photography of the desert helps your friend to see his landscape in a new way, although those mossy green rocks and silky waterfalls are stunning, and most definitely have their allure, especially while I am nearing the end of a season surrounded by snow, which has many expressions of beauty as well. Hmm, I can see more than one view of this.

    • Thanks, Jane.

      Unfortunately, my friend still views the landscape around Phoenix as “desolate.”

  3. Wonderful photography, wonderful moral!😊

  4. This is so true! As a native Phonetician myself, I have an impossible time finding beauty in the landscape. I regularly make trips a few hours north to Sedona and Flagstaff for a a bit of greenery. However, I recently made a friend who has lived all over the world and settled here…out of all the places, she chose the open landscape, vivid sunsets, unique cacti and a state of immense diversity. The grass may always be greener on the other side, but befriending our neighbors is often the cure when we begin to take our own lawn for granted. 🙂

    • Well put. 🙂

      There’s no question–if you keep an open mind and are willing to see a familiar place vicariously through the eyes of a newcomer it can broaden your own perspective.

  5. Your images are magnificent, Kerry. And I couldn’t agree more how important it is to see new things with new eyes. It’s all about perspective. Great post.

    • Thanks very much, Jane!

  6. Interesting because with all the recent rains and snow, Arizona around Phoenix is bursting with green and colors from actual grass growing and the wildflowers blooming. I loved it!

    • Superbloom notwithstanding. 🙂

  7. On the other hand, I think a bit of travel occasionally helps to shake up the vision thing (so to speak). Isn’t that why we do it?

    • I don’t think this is really a specific location issue so much as it is an ecosystem/terrain/subject matter issue. I mean, my friend in Phoenix could travel hundreds of miles from home and still be looking at a desert environment–still rocks and cacti, to put it superficially. (And I could do the same thing–go hundreds of miles east or west and still be staring at (again, superficially) the same basic subject matter.)

      My use of a variant of the word “superficial” here is deliberate and, I think, instructive. The key here, I believe, is one’s mindset.

  8. colorful, beautiful and emotionally soothing pictures

    • Thanks very much!

  9. I’m from Phoenix (although it has been many years since I lived there – and I appreciate it much more on my rare visits now) and I am astounded that your friend and resident of my hometown has failed to see the natural beauty around them. Great job capturing my home state. Maybe they need to travel away a bit so that they can appreciate what they have (I certainly miss that unique beauty now that I am not forced to see it every day).

    • Thanks! You may well be right; it’s possible that an extended absence from the familiar may lead to a greater appreciation of what was once considered mundane.

  10. Interesting perspective. That’s also the reason why I always try to see the interesting aspect of the familiar. Streets may be dirty and gray but, with right angle and light, can be mysterious or even exotic.

    • Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      The key, I think, is figuring out a way to see the familiar with the proverbial fresh set of eyes.

  11. […] My previous post referenced common landscape photography expectations in Arizona as the means to making a point about the potential for being blinded to opportunities by superficially familiar settings.   As a result, I thought the story of how the image contained at the climax of this entry was made would be timely. […]

  12. The Windstone Arch, really good captured! Gr stef

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